Manchester United haven't won at Chelsea in the league since 20 April 2002. Ten years. A miserable record, especially as Chelsea have been managed by Avram Grant in that time. And to think people quibble about Tottenham's record at Old Trafford. These are meant to be the champions of England, and they can't even win at a ground where Chelsea didn't lose for 86 matches, a run spanning four years and eight months. Oh.
Only four players, two on each side, remain from that match. United won 3-0, a victory that wasn't enough to stop Arsenal finally sealing the league title at Old Trafford a couple of weeks later. No prizes for guessing which players we're looking for here. For Chelsea, it's former England captain John Terry and Frank Lampard. For United, it's Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, who gave Lampard a lesson that afternoon and may be about to give him another one today. Scholes got United on their way, scoring a trademark 25-yarder, a fine way to end a season which began with him being messed about following the arrival of Juan Sebastian Veron. There have been a few occasions heralded as the end of Scholes, but here he still is, running the show against Liverpool at last weekend and against Stoke on Tuesday, like a dad pulling the strings in a game with his kids down the park. "Och, he's got feathers in his feet," purred Sir Alex Ferguson after the 2-0 win over Tony Pulis's side.
Still, the return of Scholes from retirement last month, as romantic as it is, does demonstrate the problems facing United, who decided the best way to replace Paul Scholes is with Paul Scholes. Accept no lesser imitations and all that, but the lack of care given to their midfield over the last few years is the major factor holding this side back from truly challenging the best in Europe. In that context, it is remarkable that they are still keeping up with Manchester City, a bit like when you chop garlic and the smell follows you around for days. Despite not playing that well against Stoke, there was never really any doubt that United would eventually find a way.
They haven't had many better opportunities to end their dismal run at Stamford Bridge than this. There remains the possibility that Chelsea might suddenly rediscover their former swagger at some point this season, but it's looking increasingly unlikely. If United need an example of the dangers of standing still, look no further. Where the blame lies for Chelsea's slump isn't immediately clear. On the one hand, we constantly hear of a squad full of difficult characters who need taking down a peg or two and who haven't won nearly as much as their egos would suggest.
Add to that an inconsistent transfer policy – it's hard to name too many obvious successful signings since 2006 – and constantly changing managers, and it would appear that Andre Villas-Boas needs time and support from above. Don't hold your breath. On the other hand, even with some of the old guard sent off to the glue factory, Chelsea still don't have any obvious style or philosophy on the pitch. With all this talk of former players, now wouldn't be the worst time for the old Fernando Torres to come out of hiding.
Teams: Were any of the Chelsea substitutes alive the last time United won at Stamford Bridge?
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Bosingwa; Essien, Meireles, Malouda; Sturridge, Torres, Mata. Subs: Turnbull, Ferreira, Bertrand, Hutchinson, Romeu, Piazon, Lukaku.
Manchester United (4-4-2): De Gea; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra: Valencia Giggs, Carrick, Young; Rooney, Welbeck. Subs: Amos, Fabio, Park, Berbatov, Pogba, Hernandez, Scholes.
Referee: Howard Webb.
Judging by the reaction of Chelsea fans of my acquaintance, no one's especially happy to see Jose Bosingwa up against Antonio Valencia. Or Florent Malouda in midfield. That does look like a desperately average Chelsea side. They're going to have to play exceptionally well to get anything out of this.
Here's a text off a friend at the game: "The England Under-21 left-back and captain [Ryan Bertrand] is on the bench and that ******* clown Bosingwa starts out of position. Malouda? Really? We're going to get minced." He supports Chelsea.
Fashion update: Sir Alex Ferguson is wearing a white polo neck underneath a black blazer. He looks like a vicar. Call Hadley Freeman now.
"An 11-0 win for Man United would see Newcastle slip in to 4th place," notes an optimistic Keith Angus.
"Regarding Villas-Boas, I've long believed he needs time and support," says Chuck Schick. "He needs to rebuild the team and cut off the deadwood. This being said, he is playing one piece of dead wood at leftback and one in midfield. Maybe he'll line them up 4-2-3-1 with Malouda wide left and Mata behind the striker. That would make a lot of sense and allow Essien and Meireles (though Romeu would be preferable to the latter) to add cover for the defence. Mata could then try and play Torres in more. Sadly, we all know he's going 4-3-3. He will play the uninspiring Malouda - who seems to prefer passing to the opposition than Torres - in midfield. And he's not given Bertrand a chance. Chelsea were never likely to win, so why not give young Ryan a chance? I suggest the board take it upon themselves to do the right thing - resign. They are the ones who repeatedly appoint the wrong man."
"Just thought I'd let you know that Piers Morgan is on the Fox Soccer Panel in the US Coverage," warns Tim Jarrett. "Has he often been a pundit? He just said both teams were facing "Armagedda" But im not sure what he was referring to - perhaps Man CIty winning the league. Is Armagedda even a word?" Is Piers Morgan even a human? I'm not saying he's not. I'm just asking the question.
"Must say, I'm impressed that an 'Appy 'Ammer like yourself is pals with Chelsea fans!" says Ryan Dunne. I'm a man of the people. "People, usually rightly, slag off "plastics" but surely one benefit of the Sky, Glory-Hunting age is that people can support Spurs (or Chelsea, or Arsenal) and have friends/lovers who support their rivals, without descending into the "blood feud" conflicts of old. Personally I'd obviously much rather have a partner who supported my team (the Glorious Glasgow Rangers) but, in the last analysis, choice of fitba team is hardly up there with personality/appropriate respect for Batman/sense of humour/being up for anything etc etc."
"And since you mentioned fashion, what is up with the Chelsea shorts?" says Linda Howard, before going on to explain precisely what is up with the Chelsea shorts. "They seem to have been tailored so that even I would have a bulge. Some of us get distracted, for heaven's sake."
Andre Villas-Boas says that he's picked Jose Bosingwa instead of Ryan Bertrand because of his experience. It kind of makes sense, but ... Jose Bosingwa.
The teams are in the tunnel. Patrice Evra and Petr Cech, the two captains, share some BANTER. Always good to see. "I had an exceptionally vivid dream about this match the other night, so vivid that I've placed a bet on it - and I never bet on sport," says Nick Pettigrew. "Ever. In the dream, Torres scored a hat trick. I've pissed my money away, haven't I?" If it's any consolation, he did score against United in September.
1 min: Off we go, United getting us underway and attacking from right to left in the first half. Meanwhile, I bet the people complaining here are the kind of people who stand on the left on the escalator on the tube. Oh humanity.
2 min: Essien trips Evra 25 yards from goal, giving United a free-kick in a promising position. Rooney curls it over the wall with his right foot, but it curves harmlessly past the near post. "One of Morgan's co-pundits on Fox just informed us that Tim Cahill will start for Chelsea in central defence," says Adam in New York. "Someone should urgently let the Everton midfielder know he's needed at Stamford Bridge."
3 min: Sturridge nearly plays Mata through the middle, but Ferdinand does well to cut the pass out. For some reason, Ferdinand is being booed by the Chelsea fans. Can anyone tell me why? They can't still be annoyed about that Merking Show in 2006. "I wonder a bit if the old ire and dander would be up a bit more for Torres if Vidic were out there" says Linda Howard. "That was always fun."
5 min: A sloppy pass from Ferdinand gives Sturridge a chance to attack United on the right. He tries a couple of stepovers, but then drags his cross straight into the arms of De Gea, who manages not to throw the ball into his own net. That's cheap, isn't it? He's obviously going to be a very good goalkeeper.
6 min: Not a bad start from Chelsea, this. Sturridge has a pop from distance. It's going well wide, but a deflection takes it even further wide, giving Chelsea their first corner.
7 min: Mata's corner from the right is low and all Cahill can do is divert it out of the area to Malouda, whose volley is deflected wide for another corner, this time on the left. Meireles whips it to the far post, where Ivanovic heads it back across goal. Carrick heads it up into the air and under no pressure at all, De Gea flaps haplessly at the punch. Oh dear. It comes to Meireles on the left, but this is just insulting, a shot from a ludicrous angle that flies into the side-netting.
9 min: Ashley Young wriggles and twists and turns in the area, somehow holding on to the ball, before falling over his own feet. He wants a penalty, but Howard Webb gives a free-kick to Chelsea for handball by Young. "The good thing about playing Bosingwa and Luiz is that it will save Gary Cahill from any criticism possible if Chelsea's defence have a wobble today," says Sasu Laaksonen. "So no pressure there Gary, the FWA is on your side."
11 min: Howard Webb, England's top referee. Giggs slips Welbeck through the middle, and the United striker's touch takes it away from the Cahill, who slides in, misses the ball and takes out Welbeck. It's probably just outside the area, but arguably a red card as Welbeck would have been through. Amazingly Webb waves play on. He's bottled that. United are livid.
13 min: United felt they were hard done by by refereeing decisions during their defeat at Stamford Bridge last season. Expect that decision to be referenced after this match should they lose. Ferguson is still blowing hot heat into the fourth official's ear on the touchline.
15 min: Still, that's one in the eye for
Liverpool fans those who claim Howard Webb is United's 12th man.
17 min: United look so dangerous on the counter-attack. And indeed when they have the ball. Chelsea's attack is so ponderous at the moment. Anyway, Young has a sight of goal on the edge of the area, but takes too long to shoot and when he does, the pace is taken off the effort by Cahill's block. The shot spins up and Cech saves easily, preventing a corner. A lot of United's moves are falling down at the feet of Young.
19 min: Meireles, who's gone for the toupée look today, sends a dreadful free-kick into the United area. It's cleared with contempt. Chelsea's set-pieces have been crummy so far.
20 min: Ferdinand strides forward from the back and is roundly booed by the Chelsea fans. Well done football!
21 min: Torres continues his Chris Sutton impression by slicing miles wide of the right post from 25 yards out. For a moment, he had the United defence on the run, and then he did that. How did this happen? Where did it all go wrong? It's not long before he's got a sniff of the ball again, and sure enough, his lay-off goes behind Sturridge, handing possession back to United.
23 min: The problems facing a right-footed left-back are highlighted when instead of going down the outside, Bosingwa tries to skip inside Rafael, who reads his intentions like Charlie Adam devours James Corden tomes and wins the free-kick off him. "I'm sure Webb's appointment to any Man Utd. match elicits groans of dread or a quiet "YES!" from everyone involved, depending on who you support," says Linda Howard. "Is he trying to work on his reputation? Doesn't he know either way he can't win? That is LITERALLY the nature of his profession."
25 min: De Gea does well to punch away a Mata free-kick from the right with Cahill nearby. There. United break forward at speed but Young is caught offside from Rooney's pass despite looking down the line.
27 min: Luiz has had a quiet start to this game. A little too quiet, so he puts the clown costume on and hands the ball straight to Giggs, who overcooks his pass through to Young. That sums this game up.
29 min: Ivanovic stops Welbeck from giving United the lead with a brilliant last-ditch challenge. Chelsea were torn to pieces by a simple but excellent pass over the top from Valencia to Rooney, the hosts pulling off the worst offside trap since this effort from United in 1980. Instead of shooting, Rooney decides to give Welbeck an open goal with a pass across the area. Cahill and Cech were taken out of the picture altogether, but Ivanovic slid in to clear as Welbeck prepared to slide the ball home.
30 min: Torres is booked for clattering into the back of Evans as they chased down a loose ball. The challenge hurt Evans, though a booking looked a bit harsh.
33 min: Roars of laughter on Merseyside as a cross from Mata slams straight into Evra's face, almost knocking him out. This match is best watched to this music.
GOAL! Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United (Evans own goal, 36 min): It just gets worse for Patrice Evra. After a scrappy period of play, the ball bobbled to Sturridge on the right side of the area. Faced by Evra and with little room to work with, he somehow tricked his way past the left-back, making his way to the byline. He could only cut it back, such was the angle, and managed to dig it past De Gea and on to the chest of the unlucky Evans, who could only divert it into his own goal. That goal was all down to Sturridge, who beat Evra so easily. He made Chelsea's first goal against Manchester City in similar fashion, and he's done it again. He's such a talent.
37 min: Having made the goal, Sturridge wants one for himself now. He finds himself in a pocket of space outside the area and lets fly with a stinging drive that De Gea beats away. United are rattled.
38 min: But not that rattled. Young cuts in from the left and tries to bend one into the far corner. Cech plunges to his left and pushes the effort aside, the rebound just evading Rooney.
41 min: Cech preserves Chelsea's lead again, though United got a little lucky with this chance. Welbeck tried to play a one-two with Rooney on the edge of the area. The pass wasn't good enough but rebounded off the unwitting Meireles and back to Welbeck, whose first-time shot was palmed behind by Cech. A good save, but he would have been disappointed if it had gone in.
42 min: United are trying to Arsenal it into the net. Won't someone just have a shot?
44 min: Webb marks a fine half of refereeing by giving a free-kick against Ivanovic for getting the ball when he tackled Evra.
45 min: There will be two minutes of added time. Chelsea are holding on a little now, and Ivanovic betrays their panic by bumping into Young on the left and earning a booking.
45 min+2: Another free-kick for United, as Giggs rolls back the years, skips past a few challenges and draws the foul from Mata. The home fans howl their disapproval, but Mata was late. Giggs taps the free-kick to his right for Rooney, who fizzes a low drive from 35 yards out towards the bottom-left corner. Cech gets down well to push it wide, although it might already have been heading off-target.
Half time: Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United: Chelsea survive more late pressure from United and once the ball is cleared, the whistle blows for half time.
Half time emails:
"Hello Jacob, has any kind soul actually offered an irony-free answer to your question at Minute Three?" says Tim Lawler. Thankfully not. "That might liven up half-time. Apparently he has this brother, see, whom..."
"Rooney spends more money than I've ever owned on some hair then shaves half of it off," blasts Tom Saggers.
"Yet again United look to be on top but don't make it count and end up conceding," says Simon Reece.
"Maybe Torres should start playing centre back, as Chris Sutton did for Celtic, because he is absolutely hopeless up front," says William Macpherson. "He makes Andy Carrol look good."
46 min: No changes for either side at half time. Chelsea get us going again, and ...
WHAT A GOAL!!! Chelsea 2-0 Manchester United (Mata, 46 min): Fernando Torres isn't scoring at the moment, but Chelsea won't care if he keeps laying them on for goals like this. He peels off to the right flank and swings a peach of a cross to the far post. With every United defender drawn to the near post, Mata is left all alone 10 yards from goal. Instead of taking it down, he meets the ball on the volley with his left foot and the ball screams past David De Gea, probably deafening him in the process, and into the roof of the net. What technique. That was incredible.
49 min: Meireles gets excited and wafts a shot from 30 yards well over the top. United are in real trouble now. Their miserable run at Stamford Bridge looks like going on.
50 min: Sturridge embarrassed Gael Clichy, and now he's doing the same to Patrice Evra. He skins the United full-back again and wins the foul. Evra is booked. Chelsea have a free-kick on the right flank, and ...
GOAL! Chelsea 3-0 Manchester United (Luiz, 51 min): United have completely fallent to pieces. Mata swings the free-kick towards the far post, where no one has bothered to pick up Luiz. He makes a mess of the header, the ball coming off his shoulder, but it didn't matter as it hit Ferdinand and looped into the top-right corner. All they need now is a Torres goal.
53 min: The woeful Ashley Young is replaced by Javier Hernandez.
54 min: So, was Mata's volley better than Robin van Persie's against Everton? "I've eaten my words Jacob, and very quickly at that," says William Macpherson of Torres. "Perhaps he should play on the wing?"
55 min: There's a leak in the roof of one of the stands, but not as many as there are in the United defence. "Why did we let Sturridge go?" says David Karjanen, a Manchester City fan. To be fair, you're not doing too badly without him. He is a special talent though.
56 min: "Thursday nights, Channel Five!" crow the Chelsea fans.
56 min: Chris Sutton scored when Chelsea beat Manchester United 5-0 in October 2000.
57 min: PENALTY TO MANCHESTER UNITED! Evra breaks into the area and Sturridge clumsily brings him down. This game is all about these two.
GOAL! Chelsea 3-1 Manchester United (Rooney pen, 58 min): Rooney missed one against Chelsea earlier this season, but not this time. This was unstoppable, slammed into the top-left corner. Cech went the other way, not that it would have made any difference. Now then.
59 min: It was a foolish challenge from Sturridge, who caught the back of Evra's foot. On Sky, Geoff Shreeves informs us that just before Sturridge gave away the penalty, Villas-Boas had berated him for not tracking back. He might be regretting that.
61 min: Looking to make amends, Sturridge drags a low shot well wide. He needs to just calm down a little. "Same feeling watching Luiz score as I used to get when Phillipe Albert or Frank Lebouf scored," says Darren McVeigh. "Horrible."
63 min: Paul Scholes is getting ready to come on. "That penalty award encapsulates everything wrong with Howard Webb as a referee," says Jonathan Francis. "He's happy to make that decision when it no longer matters, but he never gives it if the score was 1-0, or 0-0 as when he bottled those decisions in the first ten minutes. That's not to excuse United's defending this half, but why does the FA persist in giving Webb matches beyond his capabilities?" He can do 1,000 press-ups.
64 min: And now Scholes is on for Rafael. Valencia goes to right-back. Despite getting the goal back, United don't particularly look like staging an unlikely comeback.
66 min: Luiz pierces United's defence down the left with a wonderful pass through to Malouda. His cutback to Torres is cut out, but only comes to Mata, who steers a drive straight at De Gea. Up the other end, Rooney hammers one wide from 25 yards out. It's too open for Chelsea's liking.
67 min: Far too open. United are attacking with much more poise now. Giggs and Hernandez combine to set up Rooney on the edge of the area but his low shot doesn't quite have enough on it to beat Cech.
68 min: ANOTHER PENALTY TO MANCHESTER UNITED! But it's unlucky. Welbeck almost kicks Ivanovic's foot and goes down. Webb points to the spot.
GOAL! Chelsea 3-2 Manchester United (Rooney pen, 69 min): For the second game in a row, United have scored twice from the spot and suddenly the most dramatic of comebacks is on. Rooney goes low this time and into the opposite corner, but again Cech goes the wrong way. They couldn't, could they? They've had some escape acts in the past. This would be up there.
71 min: Chelsea look to beef up their midfield by introducing Oriol Romeu for Sturridge. The second penalty was unlucky for Chelsea. Welbeck was certainly looking for it and Ivanovic didn't do a lot. Still, there was contact.
72 min: It's all Manchester United now. Chelsea are going to be playing exclusively on the break.
74 min: Essien skelps one into the Matthew Harding Upper. "Following on from David Karjanen wondering why Man City let Sturridge go, I seem to recall it was because of his ridiculous wage demands," says Paul Boardman, who could be right. "He's obviously a talent, but whenever I see him play, that rather colours my view of him, I must say. Maybe it was all his agent's fault. As we know, all agents are essentially evil, after all..."
74 min, part two: The comeback was nearly complete. Romeu disastrously gives the ball away to Carrick and before Chelsea know it, Giggs has played Hernandez in on the right side of the area. Faced by Luiz, he shifts the ball to the right, and then pulls his shot across goal and a few yards wide. A poor finish by his standards.
76 min: Torres controls a Malouda pass on his chest and lays the ball off to Essien, who thunders a shot down De Gea's throat. He punches it over.
77 min: Torres should wrap it up. Torres has to score. Shoot, Torres. Shoot! You're seven yards out, shoot!
78 min: He didn't shoot. Instead he got tackled. Sign him up, Arsene. His confidence in front of goal is at an all-time low. You'd have to wonder what would happen if a Torres shot ended up on target with De Gea in goal. Probably a split in the time-space continuum, with Andy Carroll ending up as Prime Minister.
81 min: Carrick finds Welbeck on the edge of the area. Cahill, in the best John Terry style, blocks his shot. The home crowd are on the edge of their seats now.
82 min: Giggs clips a corner to the near post from the left, but although he gets in front of his man, Welbeck can only direct is header well off target. "The constant mantra is that Torres hasn't lost it and will get it back at some point but if film-makers can lose it (M. Night Shyamalan), if comedians can lose it (supposedly, there was a time when Ben Elton was funny), if bands can lose it (the Rolling Stones after 'Exile on Main St.') why not goal scorers?" asks Steven Hughes.
83 min: "It's a poor condemnation of Torres where in your photo of him and Jonny Evans, the latter is outscoring him for Chelsea," honks Duncan Smith.
INCREDIBLE! Chelsea 3-3 Manchester United (Hernandez, 84 min): They just will not lie down. Chelsea thought they had escaped when Valencia stormed down the right, outpacing Essien, and found Rooney in the middle. He found Rooney in the middle and smashed the ball goalwards, bringing the best out of Cech, who pushed it out to the left. But there was Giggs and he dinked the ball back into the six-yard box where the arch-poacher, Javier Hernandez, was left unmarked and he made no mistake with his header despite the best efforts of Cech. They're going to win this.
86 min: But for a small corner in the Shed End, Stamford Bridge is silent. Nothing could sum up United better than this comeback. It's like something out of the Treble year.
87 min: Park has come on for Welbeck by the way. Incredible Meireles has a chance to hit back instantly for Chelsea but puts a free header over from six yards out, completely mistiming his jump as he met the cross.
90 min: Chelsea have completely lost the run of themselves here. They've really missed the leadership of, well, John Terry since the first United goal.
90 min+1: There will be four minutes for either side to find a winner. Scholes starts stoppage time by doing what he does best, knocking over Luiz 30 yards from United's goal. Mata will take it.
90 min+2: What a save from De Gea. Mata got his free-kick up and over the wall, and it was destined for the top-right corner, only for De Gea to leap to his left and tip it wide.
90 min+3: Evra wins a corner for United on the left. Giggs whips it in and there's a shout for handball against Torres, but Webb's not about to give a third penalty. The ball comes out to Carrick, whose volley is held by Cech.
90 min+5: Another save from De Gea! Cahill bursts forward and unleashes a piledriver that De Gea tips over. It was right above him, to be fair.
Full time, Chelsea 3-3 Manchester United: The corner comes to nothing, and that's that. What an invigorating game that was. Boos greet the final whistle, Chelsea fans simultaneously furious with Howard Webb for giving two penalties against them and also for their team throwing it away.
United fall two points behind City in the title race. But the message it sends out to their neighbours could be just as important. Chelsea thought it was over at 3-0. It's never over against Manchester United. You'd think people would know that by now. Chelsea should be encouraged by their performance for the first hour. The less said about what followed, the better. Fitba, bloody hell, as someone once said.